Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell) in conversation with… David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid)


Welcome to this regular interview series on the #altc blog. For this interview, I am delighted to welcome David Hopkins, CMALT, FHEA, who many of our readers will know as an influential voice on Twitter as @hopkinsdavid.

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

David: I have two main area of focus at the moment; the line management of learning designers at Coventry University Online (CUOL), and development of processes and working practices that define the work produced by the CUOL Studio (made up of learning design, digital media and project management). Since CUOL opened its doors, so to speak, in September 2017 the operation has grown to a team of over 70 and are developing and delivering materials for a growing number of fully-online postgraduate degrees. In the first 18 months, give or take, we’ve been busy producing high quality materials to fit the requirements of the business and degrees currently under development. Focus is now shifting to new areas for CUOL and new challenges, such as understanding if the production model being used for postgraduate study is suitable or fits the perceived production cycle of short courses, undergraduate degrees and even specialist qualifications. The hard part is working out the strategy and process for this kind of activity when we may not yet have enough information on the specifics (eg accreditation, qualification, length of study, etc). The ability to work collaboratively across the different CUOL functional teams is key to our success, as well as working closely with academic teams from the whole spectrum of the university.

Maren: What influences your work? 

David: I find a great deal of influence for my work comes from those I work with, and this has always been the case. I have been lucky to work with some great people throughout my career, and I hope this continues for many more years to come. I have also been lucky to connect to some other great ‘influencers’ through attendance at various events and through daily interactions on both LinkedIn and Twitter. You don’t necessarily have to be active in all the different realms where connections can take place, but being receptive to the environment and the openness and willingness others have to share can be a good thing. It has been for me.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

David: I’ve just finished re-reading the Ernest Cline ‘Ready Player One’ book again (paperback), which I’d thoroughly recommend for anyone who has a remote interest in either the 80s or games/gaming and virtual reality. No, I haven’t seen the film and I am in no hurry to either. The trailers for it looked spectacular, but clearly some things were changed to get this epic story into a 2 hour film, and I don’t want my vision of the story spoiled.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

David: I have never found a to-do list system that works. I have tried keeping logs and lists in a Moleskin notebook, I’ve tried OneNote and Trello, but none have worked or lasted more than a day or so. I’m just not a list-making sort of person, despite knowing I should make and keep them. The most effective or efficient type of list is an email I keep in my draft folder (ie never sent) that I add important info or work related deadlines to. But that often goes un-updated or I forget. I just don’t like lists!

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

David: When I’m travelling I become very paranoid about making sure I’ve got everything I need and it’s all fully charged. Sometimes for work travel I’ll need to take my MacBook, so I’ll have that and the mains charger. As it’s a new(ish) MacBook I need to be sure I’ve got the appropriate adaptors so I can plug things like USBs or projectors in (you can’t always rely on the ability to present or show your screen remotely or wirelessly). I will have my phone (iPhone) on me all the time so I’ll have an Apple Lightning USB cable for charging, although I would rather use my portable charger, which is good for a couple of full charges for my phone (and someone else’s if they need a little juice to get them through the day). Alongside this I’ll have my set of Bluetooth headphones … none of the in- or over-the-ear ones for me (in-ear are too uncomfortable and the over-ear make my ears too hot), I have a good set of AKG Y50BT. I was after a set of noise cancelling ‘phones originally but couldn’t stretch that far financially, but these do a reasonable job of blocking some surrounding noise out too.

As always, I’ve got at least two spare USB cables (USBc and Apple Lightning), you never know how they can be useful to others. Alongside all these gadgets I’ll have a notebook of some sort, depends on what I’ve got at the time (at the moment it’s a Minions Moleskine notebook!) and a bag to carry it all in.

After speaking to friends and colleagues at or around events I know we’re all very different, which is where the inspiration for my #EdTechRations book came from. The idea of sharing our very different needs and paranoia around cables and power packs and extraneous cables for a day or more away. If I’m away for more than one day I’ll often take my tablet (previously an iPad, nowadays a Kindle Fire) to watch something from Amazon Video, Netflix or other streaming apps in the evening. I’ve just finished watching the Amazon Prime Good Omens, so am on the lookout for a new series to get into.

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

David: The single item of technology that has made the biggest difference to my learning (my interpretation of the question) was my first iPhone (3GS, about 2010?). I went from a ‘dumb’ phone to this thing in my pocket that was more than just a phone and internet access, it was linked to everything and everyone, all the time, and wonderfully structured into little pockets of pre-determined content in the shape of apps and things. It has consumed many evenings and weekends, many trips to the coffee shop and the occasional meeting too. My smartphone has helped me find my way through an unknown campus and reminded me where I should be and when. I’ve shot planes down and jumped over exploding flowers, I’ve solved puzzles and shared photos of my dinner. My phone has reminded me of my children’s assembly times as well as important meetings I don’t want to be late for, as well as enabling me to connect to people who share my enthusiasm for learning and learning technology. And Lego. Don’t forget the Lego!! We all need more Lego.

Two quotes stand out for me in the importance of understanding what the massive impact smartphones have had on me (and everyone else). These are:

1 The tweet from Bill Thompson ( inspired my last book, #EdTechRations, and is just so true for so many of us today;

“Have realised that I very rarely check my phone. I am however umbilically attached to my networked pocket computer, used for many tasks.”

2 Anthony Chivetta said in 2008 ( that “the need to know the capital of Florida died when my phone learned the answer.” As a student representative he went on to explain the use and impact smartphones and technology has had, and is still having, on learning and students by saying

“Rather, the students of tomorrow need to be able to think creatively: they will need to learn on their own, adapt to new challenges and innovate on-the-fly … students of tomorrow will need to be their own guides as they explore the body of information that is at their fingertips. My generation will be required to learn information quickly, use that information to solve new and novel problems, and then present those solutions in creative and effective ways. The effective students of tomorrow’s world will be independent learners, strong problem solvers and effective designers.”

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

David: The list is long and extremely distinguished, and grows almost daily. There isn’t a good way to list them all and I don’t want to single any one person out as so many people have influenced me on my journey. Perhaps just look at my Twitter profile and the people I follow, those are the ones who matter the most. Today.

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

David: The superpower to prevent confusing and often conflicting uses of different terms to mean the same thing, or people using terminology incorrectly. When you say course do you mean the degree course, or are you referring to the module/unit level, or something different? Perhaps that’s too specific, perhaps I’d rather have the power to help all stakeholders in the design, development and deployment of distance, online learning to understand what we’re doing, and why, in order to help the process and writing of materials? Yeah, that’d be good if we could get over that hurdle.

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags? [or equivalent if you don’t use hashtags] 

David: Ahh, which hashtag to use, and when? That’s the perfect storm isn’t it? I’m sure I read some research a few years back that found that the optimum number of hashtags, for marketing or brand awareness, was no fewer than two and no more than three? It seems fairly sensible, but my favourites are #altc, #learning, #EdTech #OnlineLearning .. and two of my favourites are #EdTechRations and #EdTechBook (obvs.).

If you’re going to use a hashtag made up of different words, please consider the accessibility to the tag by capitalising the different words, it makes it easier for screen readers to read, more here:

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

David: For a long time it’s always been my blog as ‘the’ place to go to follow my ramblings and thoughts, but I’ve neglected it for the last year or so. I keep meaning to get back to the blogging but I find a lot of what I would say is already being said by more prominent and more eloquent people. Ho hum! Where comments and conversations would happen on blog posts quite a lot in the past, that trend seems to have stopped. Wouldn’t it be great to resurrect that practice again, get the connections and collaborative juices flowing, just like it was when I started doing all this stuff 10-12 years ago?!

I am, however, still active on Twitter and LinkedIn, so any connections or conversations anyone wants to have, find me on either of those networks and let’s get working! It is only through the back and forth of these connections that we can learn from each other and help others. These are exciting times for learning and learning technologies, but we need to keep working at it and challenging ourselves.

Maren: Thank you, David, for a great chat #altc!

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

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